Record aside, Kluber worthy of All-Star berth
Tribe ace among leaders in several categories, but receives little run support
ST. PETERSBURG -- Corey Kluber has not given much thought to the All-Star Game. The ace of the Indians' rotation knows that other people probably are not thinking too much about him in relation to the Midsummer Classic, either.
"I don't know how many guys with the traditional statistics that I have make an All-Star Game," Kluber said, shrugging off the topic Thursday.
The issue was raised in the wake of another strong outing from Kluber, who struck out 14 over eight innings in Cleveland's 5-4, 10-inning victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field. Apropos to his season to date, Kluber walked away with a no-decision due to some missed plays on defense and a rally by the Rays in the sixth that erased his lead.
Kluber, who has a stronger All-Star case than it appears on the surface, was not about to complain about his no-decision. Kluber said the team victory is more important to him than what goes next to his name in the box score. That is good, too, considering the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner has a misleading 3-9 record to go with his 3.64 ERA.
"His record doesn't show anywhere near what he's been able to do," said Mike Aviles, who belted a go-ahead solo home run in the 10th. "It's just we haven't been able to score runs for him. Honestly, that's really what it comes down to. He's given us an opportunity to win every five days when he takes that ball, but we just haven't been able to score runs. So, it was nice to at least put four runs up there for him.
"Unfortunately, he didn't get the win today, but he put us in a position for us to get the win."
In 11 of Kluber's 17 starts, Cleveland's offense has scored two or fewer runs. The four runs he received while the pitcher of record Thursday were the most he's had to work with since the lineup spotted him five runs May 28. Entering his start against Tampa Bay, Kluber's 2.28 run support average was the worst rate in the Majors among qualified starting pitchers.
That has played a large role in Kluber's win-loss record.
When it comes to peripheral statistics, it could be argued that Kluber has performed as one of the top five starting pitchers in the Majors. With his performance against the Rays, Kluber moved into a tie with White Sox ace Chris Sale for the most strikeouts (141) in baseball. The righty also ranked second in baseball in innings (118 2/3), third in WAR (3.5, per Fangraphs.com), fourth in strikeouts per nine innings (10.69) and sixth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.88).
"If you really break down what he's done," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said, "it's All-Star caliber, for sure. He's one of the top guys in innings pitched, strikeouts, strikeout-to-walk ratio -- all the things you look at to evaluate a good pitcher, or how you would acquire a pitcher."
Callaway cited FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and xFIP (expected Fielding Indendent Pitching) as two of his favorite stats for evaluating performance. FIP strips away defense and focuses on elements under a pitcher's control (strikeouts, walks and home runs) and xFIP is more predictive, attempting to neutralize the varying elements involved with homers.
Kluber ranks third in FIP (2.45) and fourth in xFIP (2.57) in the Majors.
"Both really show exactly what the pitcher's tendencies are," Callaway said, "as far as taking away the defense and, 'How can he get guys out, if you take defense out of it?'"
Thursday provided the perfect example.
Tampa Bay had a trio of singles in the first, but a throwing error by catcher Yan Gomes helped the Rays to one of their two runs in the frame. In the Rays' two-run sixth, another run-scoring infield hit came on a sharply-hit grounder that skipped off the glove of diving first baseman Carlos Santana and rolled into no-man's land behind the mound.
"There's certain things that are somewhat out of your control," said Kluber, who gave up four runs (three earned) on seven hits and walked two in his latest start. "All you can do is control trying to execute a pitch that you're looking to. I feel like I'm in a pretty good spot."
Kluber's All-Star chances are also out of his control.
Indians manager Terry Francona mentioned Carlos Carrasco, who has a more impressive record (10-6) than Kluber, but is behind the Cy Young Award winner in FIP, WAR, ERA, strikeouts and innings. Even with that being the case, Carrasco might look more like an All-Star on the surface.
"I don't want to talk down Carrasco," Francona said, "but if you look across the board, Kluber's stats are really good. You look at his numbers across the board, and they're All-Star numbers."